Dan Silvers of Lantana Games Discusses Children of Liberty and How It Came to Be

Children of Liberty

Dan Silvers, lead designer at Lantana Games, spoke with us regarding their upcoming title Children of Liberty. The game is their first commercial title, and Dan gave us some insight into how this game came to be. There are not many games that take place in the moments leading up to the American Revolution, which makes this game all the more interesting. The Minutemen National Historical Park will certainly be proud when this game releases.

About Children of Liberty:

The Regulars are Marching! Are you ready to take on the Colonial occupying forces with nothing but the shadows and your toy collection to help you?

Children of Liberty is a stealth platformer for PC and Mac. The game combines classic 2D platforming with modern stealth mechanics in a 3D world for a whole new take on one of gaming’s most beloved genres. Play as any of four kids, each with varying abilities and storylines, in this grand adventure coming soon from Lantana Games.

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Indie Game HQ: Can you tell us a little bit about Lantana Games?

Dan: Sure! Lantana Games is a very small independent game development studio located in Greater Boston. Well, more accurately, we’re a multi-attic operation. I like to think of us as garage indies. We’ve been around since the end of 2009, run by myself, Children of Liberty’s designer, and Julia Smith, our fabulously eccentric Creative Director/Producer. We met down at the Savannah College of Art and Design but have always lived about 15 minutes from each other up here in Massachusetts. There is also Brian Wang, my long-time best friend and now our programmer/engineer extraordinare; Rob Jaret, our ridiculously talented composer and audio director; and Michael Winn and Ricky Bryant Jr., two of the most talented animators on the planet.

Indie Game HQ: Prior to working on Children of Liberty, what has Lantana Games worked on?

Dan: This is actually our first commercial product and has been in development for a long time. We also enjoy jamming stuff out for Ludum Dare, the Global Game Jam, and other quick-burst production periods. The good ones are available for free here.

Indie Game HQ: How long has the game been under development, and when can we expect a full release?

Dan: The game, as it’s seen now, has been in development for about two years. There was a prototype version of it which we completely scrapped, all 2D but still hand-drawn. I think we spent about a year, maybe a year and a half working on that one, but as far as I’m concerned it was a different game that was since cancelled and reborn as something else. Kind of like Sleeping Dogs! Only not at all like Sleeping Dogs. As for the full release, I wish I could tell ya, but our biggest fans can help test our alpha builds, which gets them all updates for life.

Indie Game HQ: What inspired you to create a game based in the weeks running up to the American Revolution?

Dan: More like hours, really. As I was closing in on graduating from SCAD, I received a proposal from the Minuteman National Historic Park to make some games for their websites. After toiling to come up with a concept, I finally had a eureka moment and came up with an idea for these kid spies for the Patriots who get into trouble in Colonial Boston. This eventually morphed its way into using the kids to fill in the plot holes of Paul Revere’s Ride, of which there are many. There are a lot of coincidences and mysteriously missing details, so they became the key to the whole story. When the Park informed me they didn’t have any money to fund the project, I just went with it. That was four years ago and we still don’t have any money to fund the project! To this day we’ve survived strictly off of family funding and a tiny Kickstarter.

Indie Game HQ: What led to your unique mashup of 2D and 3D gameplay elements?

Dan: This was a technical choice more than anything. After canning the original, purely 2D version of the game, we moved all our assets into Unity, and started asking questions. “What would happen if we attached a light to the player, you know, like a candle?” “What would happen if we turned shadows on?” “Now what would it be like if we switched from a flat camera to a perspective camera?” When all those three elements came together, we pretty much knew what had to be done. Since then the 3D elements have been bleeding into the game more and more, not just in terms of turning from one 2D gameplay track to another, but also finding those gray areas between two tracks to do things like peeking around corners, letting you see through the Fog of War for a bit. It’s been a lot of fun to push 2D platforming into new areas like that.

Indie Game HQ: What inspired the art style of Children of Liberty?

Dan: Hand-drawn animation has always been at the heart and soul of Children of Liberty. Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved cartoons – I still watch Animaniacs with breakfast. However, my passion has always been for game development, so the opportunity to merge the two together was more than I could resist. The rest of the style – 3D environments, realtime lighting and shadows – basically built itself from the technical capabilities of the Unity engine. So all the shadows behind the sprites are rendered in real-time, not faked. We’ve made sure the cartoon style also stays consistent in the rest of the world, so there is not a normal map to be found. It’s a blend of classic 2D sensibilities and next-gen 3D capabilities. Somehow we’ve gotten it to behave itself.

Indie Game HQ: Does the game feature multiple endings based on your character choice?

Dan: Indeed! This actually was something I kept in mind in the final draft of the narrative. There are basically two endings, no matter who you play – one ending per kid, and then the final ending. So it’s not as tedious as, say, Return of the King, but no matter who you play the story eventually wraps up the same way. Since we’ve taken a historically accurate approach to the narrative, we don’t change history.

Indie Game HQ: How has the alpha funding process been thus far, and how has the feedback been through Steam Greenlight?

Dan: The alpha funding process really hasn’t been anything to brag about. I attribute that to a lack of initial budget, so not many people know about the game, and the fact that it’s very difficult to sell a story-driven game when the story isn’t in yet. Plus we still don’t have a lot of content. I’m never afraid to experiment though. I think alpha funding works best for games that only need their gameplay, while other games that need, say, narrative or yet-to-be-built online services to round out the whole package just don’t appeal to the alpha funding crowd. That’s not to say we’re going to abandon our customers. The game will be on PC/Mac and our Greenlight continues to hold steady at around 50%. The feedback there has been extremely positive and it gets better each time we put out a new trailer or some new screenshots. I think this is the kind of game that people just want to see done. In the old days of Steam, this would have been the kind of game we wouldn’t have even dreamed approaching Valve about until at least beta. Thanks to the new Greenlight rules we really have no choice but to be up there. That’s how they’re picking their games now, so I’m glad we got in day 1.

Indie Game HQ: With the recent popularity of sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, what made you decide not to utilize one of these methods for funding?

Dan: We actually did, but we did it too soon. This was back in the pre-Double Fine days of Kickstarter. At the time, we were still figuring the game was going to be 2D, though remade in Unity so we could hit more platforms. We made enough on Kickstarter to purchase a couple Unity Pro licenses and that was it. To this day there are still a few prizes we haven’t gotten out. I’ve informed our backers that t-shirts and goodies will be sent out with the final release of the game. We would take that route again, but that would require A. blessing from our original backers, B. essentially asking our original backers to back us again, C. making sure we have the reach necessary to hit our funding goal. I don’t think we’re in a position to do any of those things at the moment. Maybe after PAX, if the Greenlight picks up steam (har har) and the general consensus is “Yes, it’s been two years, you can do round 2!” Unfortunately it seems like more game-based Kickstarters are failing these days than succeeding, so the time and effort needed to get another campaign together and make it successful I would rather spend focused on just making the game.

Indie Game HQ: Thanks for your time. Is there anything you would like to add for our readers?

Dan: Yes! Worry not, loyal readers, the part of Joseph is being recast. As is Sarah. Actually we’re still looking for a few more voices, so if you’ve got some acting talent, drop me a line and audition! (dsilvers@lantanagames.com) While you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to back the game on Desura. Also give me and the studio a follow on Twitter: @shadesofsilver and @lantanagames respectively. Vote us up on Greenlight! Subscribe to our Youtube! Like us on Facebook! Oh god, all the social media! ALL OF IT! CAN YOU FEEL THE SOCIAL MEDIA IN YOUR FAAAAAAAAAAAAACE?!

Lantana Games | Children of Liberty | Youtube | Facebook | Desura

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